Esperon Could Be Blessing or Curse to Arroyo

Apr. 07, 2006

A major risk-consultancy company says Esperon, if he becomes armed forces chief of staff, could be a destabilizing factor in politics

DAVAO CITY President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may be lucky for having Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the chief of Philippine Army, by her side. But while he may be a blessing to her, he could also be a curse, according to the U.S. company Pacific Strategies and Assessments (PSA), one of the most respected risk-analysis groups in Southeast Asia with deep sources within the Philippine military.

In its March 27 advisory to its clients in the Philippines, mostly foreign-owned or multinational companies, the PSA said Esperon, who might succeed Gen. Generoso Senga as armed forces chief of staff, will likely do more than just install his favorite people, collect his payoff, and retire once Arroyo names him as the top military commander.

Depending on how he (Esperon) uses this power, this could be a blessing or a curse for Arroyo, PSA said. An ambitious, powerful military chief to whom Arroyo owes favors could be a destabilizing factor in politics.

PSA said Esperon has a good chance of getting the position. Arroyo is deeply indebted to Esperon, reportedly one of the people who engineered her 2004 election win. It is no secret, either, that Esperon was instrumental in spoiling soldiers plans to withdraw support from Arroyo last February.

If Esperon gets appointed as chief of staff, he will serve for two years, one of the longest under the Arroyo administration. Esperon, the PSA said, may be doing some house cleaning, as indicated by his recommendation last month for the court martial or 96 army officers and soldiers involved in the February mutiny, in anticipation of his appointment.

The leadership succession in July should be interesting to watch, PSA said, referring to the retirement of Senga.

Esperon, along with four other generals, was implicated in the alleged rigging of the 2004 polls. He was one of the generals mentioned in the Hello Garci recordings.

In February, he was instrumental in quashing the alleged coup detat against Arroyo. The presidents political foes later said the plot was a result of the restiveness in the military that was the caused, in turn, by the failure by the generals and by Malacanang to disclose the results of an investigation that looked into the alleged complicity by some military elements, among them Esperon and the other generals, in the election fraud.

Experts have said the Philippine military has become more politicized today, with politicians using them to protect their interests and ensure their victory in elections. Aside from this, the armed forces is bedeviled with corruption, low morale and an image as human-rights violator.

Ever since they figured in the movement to topple Ferdinand Marcos, some sections within the armed forces have attempted several times to topple governments. (Carlos H. Conde/

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